Guide to the Uriah P. Levy (1792-1862) Collection,
undated, 1787-1948, 1959, 1961, 1985, 2005


Processed by Rachel Pollack

American Jewish Historical Society

Center for Jewish History

15 West 16th Street

New York, N.Y. 10011

Phone: (212) 294-6160



© 2019  American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY. All Rights Reserved.
Machine-readable finding aid created by Rachel Pollack as an MS-Word document. July 2003. Electronic finding aid converted to EAD 2002 by Tanya Elder. October 2003. Description is in English.
February 10, 2004. Access points (subject headings) added by Tanya Elder. March 28, 2005. Dates revised in Biographical Note and Chronology. Boilerplate entities removed. November 29, 2006. Folder added by Marvin Rusinek. November 10, 2017. container list description consolidated into a single series and dao links added by Leanora Lange.

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Levy, Uriah (1792-1862)
Title: Uriah P. Levy Collection
Dates:undated, 1787-1948, 1959, 1961, 1985, 2005
Abstract: Uriah Phillips Levy rose to the rank of Commodore in the United States Navy in the midst of religious hostility. He succeeded in abolishing corporal punishment in the Navy and is credited for preserving Thomas Jefferson's estate, Monticello. His papers consist of correspondence, financial and legal records, publications, papers, newspaper articles, a notebook, and a book.
Languages: The collection is in English with some Hebrew.
Quantity: 1 linear foot + oversized folder
Identification: P-43
Repository: American Jewish Historical Society
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Biographical Note

Uriah P. Levy

On April 22, 1792, Uriah Phillips Levy was born in Philadelphia, the third child of Michael and Rachel Levy. From a young age, Levy was known to be quick-tempered and proud, traits that would follow him his whole life. Throughout his childhood, Levy was heavily influenced by his maternal grandfather, Jonas Phillips, an ardent patriot, a soldier in the American Revolution and president of the Mikveh Israel Congregation in Philadelphia. Levy was also a staunch admirer of President Thomas Jefferson, another hero of his grandfather’s. Levy remained fiercely patriotic, proud of his work and his religion throughout his entire life.

Although Levy came from a long line of merchants, he had always been drawn to the sea. In 1802, at the age of ten, Levy ran away in the middle of the night to join the “New Jerusalem” as a cabin boy. After returning to Philadelphia for his Bar Mitzvah, Levy was apprenticed for four years to a family friend, John Coulter, a leading Philadelphia ship owner. In 1806 Levy became a seaman on the schooner “Rittenhouse” where he was known for his egotism. In 1809, after spending two years in navigation school, Levy set sail on two Coulter ships, the “Polly and Betsy,” as second mate, and then on the “Five Sisters.” At the end of his apprenticeship, secure in his vast knowledge of ships and sailing, Levy became one-third owner and captain of a schooner called the “George Washington” in 1811.

When the War of 1812 broke out Levy joined the crew of the “Argus” as a volunteer and was quickly appointed acting lieutenant. The “Argus” was captured by the British and Levy and the crew were detained first in Dartmoor Prison in England until after the close of the War of 1812.

Levy was assigned as sailing master aboard the “Franklin” in 1816 where he first encountered anti-Semitism. Levy, insulted by a drunken officer, retaliated, provoking the officer to challenge him to a duel. After initially refusing, Levy fought and killed his opponent. He was indicted by a grand jury and subsequently found not guilty.

Despite this incident, Levy’s application for the commission of lieutenant was granted. In 1819, while serving as third lieutenant aboard the “United States,” Levy got into another fight with the ship’s lieutenant and was court-martialed and dismissed from the Navy. Almost two years after his conviction and dismissal, Levy received word that President Monroe, whose approval was needed in order to make Levy’s removal official, had reversed the sentence of the court on the advice of Secretary of the Navy Smith Thompson. In 1821 Levy was given his first command of a ship, Gunboat No. 158, called the “Revenge.”

In March of 1825 Levy joined the “Cyane” as the second lieutenant. While on the “Cyane,” Levy became very popular after saving the life of an American who had been impressed into the Brazilian Navy. The Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro, was struck by Levy’s courageous act and ordered that no U.S. citizen ever again be impressed into the Brazilian Navy. Pedro then offered him the rank of captain in the Imperial Brazilian Navy. Levy declined, exhibiting his patriotism by stating, “I would rather serve as a cabin boy in the United States Navy than hold the rank of Admiral in any other service in the world.”

Levy’s next assignment was a shore assignment in the Philadelphia yard. The wave of popularity Levy enjoyed on the “Cyane” did not carry over to his next assignment, and Levy’s reputation kept him from receiving another ship assignment. John Coulter, with whom Levy still corresponded, urged Levy to leave the Navy. Instead, Levy decided to settle in New York City to await his next assignment. Levy withdrew his savings from Coulter’s firm and went into the real estate business just as New York City experienced a population explosion. Levy’s business acumen and property made him very wealthy.

Levy journeyed to Paris for two years and during his stay there, commissioned a statue of his hero Thomas Jefferson by the celebrated French sculptor, Pierre Jean David d’Angers. Levy donated the statue to the people of the United States in 1834, although Congress did not formally accept it until 1874.

In the early 1830s Levy made a pilgrimage to Monticello, the estate of Thomas Jefferson. Levy found Monticello in extreme disrepair, the property overgrown and neglected. Upon learning that the present owner had decided to sell, Levy decided to buy, restore and preserve Monticello himself.

Throughout his leave, Levy had continually written to the Navy Department requesting duty, and in 1837 Levy was promoted to Commander in the Navy after almost twenty years as a lieutenant. In 1838 Levy received orders to take command of the U.S.S. “Vandalia.” Levy saw his command as an opportunity to do away with the lash and established new rules and regulations for sailor conduct and discipline.

Levy’s reforms were not well-received by all, and he was court-martialed in 1842. Judges dismissed Levy from the Navy, leaving Levy certain that he was a victim of prejudice yet again. President Tyler, who had to sign the official order, decided that the ruling against Levy had not been made for the good of the service, and, sixteen days later, reversed the court’s verdict. Shortly after, to Levy’s amazement, he received a promotion to captain upon the recommendation of President Tyler.

While repeatedly petitioning the Navy for an active duty assignment, Levy began writing articles and pamphlets and speaking out against the practice of flogging. John Hale, a senator from New Hampshire, took up Levy’s cause. Despite much opposition, in 1850 Hale attached an anti-flogging rider to the Naval Appropriations Bill limiting the use of the lash. Flogging was finally outlawed in 1862.

Still awaiting a sea assignment, in 1853 Levy married his eighteen-year-old niece, his sister’s daughter, Virginia Lopez. Her father had died shortly before leaving Virginia and her mother in tight circumstances so Levy married her, this act considered almost a duty by Jewish law.

In 1855, after appealing for years for a commission, Levy received a shocking letter telling him of his removal from the Navy by the Board of Naval Officers. Convinced that he was a victim of intolerance, an enraged Levy hired Benjamin Butler as his lawyer and wrote a memorial to petition Congress to restore his captaincy. Congress convened a Court of Inquiry and in 1858 Levy was restored to active duty. Four months after the Court of Inquiry, Levy received orders to take command of the sloop of war “Macedonian” and join the Mediterranean squadron. On February 21, 1860, Levy became its Flag Officer. As was the custom of Captains commanding squadrons in the navy, Levy was now referred to as a Commodore. In 1862, Congress officially established the rank of “Commodore.”

Shortly after, Levy returned to America, and, with the start of the Civil War, Levy offered his military services as well as his entire fortune to save the Union. Instead, Lincoln installed him on the Court-Martial Board in Washington, despite his six courts-martial. Levy also completed and published his “Rules and Regulations.”

Levy died on March 26, 1862 at his home in New York. Levy received full military honors as well as a traditional Jewish ceremony. He was posthumously honored by the Navy. Named for him, the U.S.S. “Levy” hosted the surrender ceremonies of the Japanese Navy in World War II and in 1959 the Jewish chapel at the United States Naval Base in Norfolk, Virginia was dedicated to him.


Cameron, Joshua. “Commodore Levy: He Changed the Navy.” Destination: Philadelphia. Port of Philadelphia Day 1975: 11-27.

Fitzpatrick, Donovan and Saphire, Saul. Navy Maverick: Uriah Phillips Levy. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1963.

Sternlicht, Lieutenant Sanford V., Uriah Phillips Levy: The Blue Star Commodore. Ed. Malcolm H. Stern. Norfolk, Virginia: Norfolk Jewish Community Council, 1961.


April 22, 1792 Born in Philadelphia
1802Runs away from home to become a seaman
1804Returns home for bar mitzvah
1805Assigned to first ship, the “Rittenhouse”
1807Attends school for studies in navigation and seamanship
1808 (?)Promoted to second lieutenant and sails in the brig, “Polly and Betsey”
1811Buys share in small schooner, the “George Washington”
1812“George Washington” stolen by crew; promoted to Sailing Master
1813Assigned to the ship “Argus”; imprisoned in Dartmoor
1816Assigned as sailing master for the “Franklin”; challenged to duel; first court-martial
1817Granted commission as lieutenant
1818Assigned to the frigate “United States”; second court martial; dismissed from service and travels to France; sentence reversed by President Monroe
1819Third court martial
1821Returns to active duty; assigned to the brig “Spark”; fourth court-martial
1825Acts as second lieutenant on the frigate “Cyane”; declines offer to join Brazilian navy
1827Fifth court-martial
circa 1834Buys and restores President Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
1837Appointed master commander by President Jackson
1838Takes command of USS “Vandalia”; authors new set of punishment regulations to replace flogging
1842Sixth court martial
1844Appointed captain by President Tyler
1853Marries niece Virginia Lopez
1855Dismissed by Navy
1858 Restored to active duty; ordered to command U.S.S. "Macedonian"
1860Commands of Mediterranean Squandron, "Macedonian" as a Flag Officer; recognized as a Commodore
1861Sits on Court Martial Board in Washington; completes “Manual of Internal Rules and Regulations for Men of War”
March 26, 1862Dies; buried in Beth Olom Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY; flogging abolished in Navy
1943United States destroyer named the USS “Levy”
1959The Jewish chapel of the United States Naval Station in Norfolk, VA named “The Commodore Levy Chapel.”
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Scope and Content Note

The Collection of Uriah P. Levy encompasses Levy’s military life, involvement in the effort to end flogging, encounters with prejudice and courts martial. While the collection centers widely upon Levy’s experiences, struggles, and achievements in his military life, it does contain other documents about his properties, personal life, and legacy.

The collection includes a significant number of documents written after Levy’s death, many of which downplay Levy’s role in the development of anti-flogging legislation as well as question Levy’s receiving of the rank of Commodore. There are documents that counter these negative views of Levy and records of posthumous honors that shed a positive light on Levy’s accomplishments. These documents clearly indicate an interest in Levy well into the 20th century.

This collection is important to researchers interested in the experience of Jews in the United States military, flogging in the armed forces, and the Monticello estate. This collection is also of interest to anyone studying Jewish life in America in the 19th century.

The collection contains correspondence, bills, newspaper clippings, military pamphlets, and essays. Items of specific interest include a religious document called a “shtar halitzah” written in Hebrew, an indenture of sale for Monticello, and booklets of testimony from Levy’s courts martial and Court of Inquiry.

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The collection is arranged in original order.

Materials in Box 1 are microfilmed for researcher use.

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Access and Use

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers by permission of the Director of Collections and Engagement of the American Jewish Historical Society, except items that are restricted due to their fragility.

Use Restrictions

Materials in Box 1 have been microfilmed/photocopied for researcher use.

Information concerning the literary rights may be obtained from the Executive Director of the American Jewish Historical Society. Users must apply in writing for permission to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection. For more information contact:
American Jewish Historical Society, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011

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Related Material

Related materials can be found in the Papers of Jefferson Monroe Levy, P-48, and the Papers of Jonas Phillips Levy, P-412.

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Gift, in part, of the Elsie O. and Philip D. Sang Foundation, 1979. Other items were prior donations from various individuals.

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Alternate Form of Material

Materials in Box 1 have been microfilmed/photocopied for researcher use.

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Preferred Citation

Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date (if known); Uriah P. Levy Collection; P-43; box number; folder number; American Jewish Historical Society, New York, NY.

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Access Points

Click on a subject to search that term in the Center's catalog. Return to the Top of Page

Container List

The following section contains a detailed listing of the materials in the collection.

Click the box in the request column to open the form that allows you to request a box for onsite viewing in the reading room at the Center for Jewish History, New York, NY.


Collection Box List, undated, 1787-1944

The predominant language of the collection is English with some Hebrew-language materials.
1 linear foot. (2 manuscript boxes)

See collection Arrangement Note.

Scope and Content:

See collection Scope and Content Note. Detailed descriptions accompany each folder below.

11Copies of letters from Michael Levy to Henry Deering and Dudley Woodbridge1787-1788

One letter from Michael Levy, father of U.P. Levy, to Henry Deering refers to mismanagement of merchandise (1787); another letter to Dudley Woodbridge from Levy & Tucker (Michael Levy’s watch and clock shop in Philadelphia) refers to prices for a shipment of merchandise (1788).

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12Photostat of "Indenture of...Sale" of Monticello to U.P. Levy1836

Photostat copy of “Indenture of Sale” of Monticello from ‘Barclay to Levy,’ including a description of the acreage, for the amount of $2700.00 dated May 21, 1836.

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Original copy of Indenture for property rented on Eighth Street at St. Marks Place in New York City by U.P. Levy for the yearly sum of $1000.00 (1837).

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14List of deeds; Water bill; Tax bill; Statement re: U.P. Levy estate1859-1866

Five items:
1) A detailed inventory, part of Levy’s will which lists 24 deeds for property in New York City acquired by Levy during 1833-1853 (1863).
2) Original water bill for his properties from Croton Aqueduct Department for $365.00 (1861).
3) Original tax bill on his properties in the sum of $1199.65 (1862).
4) Letter referring to $8516.55 owed to Asahel S. Levy (Levy’s favorite nephew), trustee and executor of Levy’s will for his services (1866).
5) Letter in Levy’s own hand asking that no further complaints be made against him without cause by fellow officers and saying that he would not hesitate to promise to promote a better feeling “nor permit their indecent expressions of bad temper to put me in the wrong.” (1859)

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15"An Essay on Flogging in the Navy"1849

An essay on flogging in the navy containing strictures upon existing Naval laws and suggesting substitutes for the discipline of the lash. New York, Pudney & Russell Printers.

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16"Memorial of Uriah, P. the Congress of the United States"1855

Copy and original booklet “Memorial of Uriah P. Levy, Late Captain in the Navy, to the Congress of the United States complaining of the Action of the Board of Naval Officers, etc” as a basis to request that a Court of Inquiry take place to determine why Levy was dismissed as an officer. [Levy makes the following statement on page 9: “In courts of Inquiry, the regulations should have provided that whenever the Board from their…examinations should suspect that any…officer was…of blamable incapacity, due notice should be given to such officer, a day and place assigned to him to hear the charge and the evidence in its support and to defend himself.”]

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17R. Coxe, "Defence of Captain Jonas P. Levy"; 2 pp. summary notes After 1855

Two items:
1) Two original handwritten pages taken from Levy’s Defense at the Court of Inquiry which list charges brought against Levy at his six courts martial, sections of negative testimony, and a list of names of people who testified in Levy’s favor.
2) A printed pamphlet entitled, “Defense of Captain Jonas P. Levy against Hon. Elisha Whittlesey,” first comptroller of the U.S. Treasury.

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18Defense of Benjamin F. Butler 1857

Original booklet describing the “Defense of Uriah P. Levy before the Court of Inquiry, November and December 1857” as prepared by his senior counsel, B.F. Butler, 169 pages, printed in New York.

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19Visiting card of U.P. Levy undated

Two undated visiting cards:
1) Handwritten “Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy”
2) Printed card with name Uriah P. Levy, Flag Officer, inscription underneath in French.

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110Manual of Internal Rules and Regulations for Men-of-War. 2 editions. New York.undated, 1862

Two items:
1) Original Manual of Internal Rules and Regulation written by Com. U.P. Levy, U.S.N.; for Men-of-War, printed in New York.
2) Pamphlet called “Manual of Rules for Men-of-War by Captain U.P. Levy,” given free to anyone who wanted such information, printed in New York.

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111"Inventory of the Personal Estate of Uriah P. Levy"; and one letter1862; 1859

Two items, original and copy (9 pages) of an Inventory of the Personal Estate of U.P. Levy, valued at time of death at $131,606.15.

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112Photostat of will, probated1862, 1943

Original notarized form submitted October 7, 1943 to Surrogate Court confirming that Levy’s will, probated June 9, 1862, is the same as the attached copy.

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113Shtar Halitza [in Hebrew] of Virginia Lopez Levy, widow of U.P. Levy, signed by J.J. Lyons1866

One copy of a “Shtar Halitza” in Hebrew, owned by Virginia Lopez Levy, young wife of U.P. Levy. She received this document from Levy’s brother to release her from the traditional Jewish ceremony of Halitza, the marriage of a childless widow to the brother of her deceased husband.

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114Correspondence re: U.P. Levy and flogging; miscellaneous newspaper articles [Isaac Markens Material]1910-1921

Six items:
1) Five letters from the Navy Department in response to inquiries questioning Levy’s role in the abolishment of corporal punishment in the Navy, also stating that Senator J.P. Hale of New Hampshire who advocated and secured the end of flogging (1910-1913).
2) Two letters from the Navy stating that Levy was made a Commodore by courtesy (1910-1911).
3) One letter from the Library of Virginia stating that Levy and Jefferson were not acquainted nor had ever exchanged letters (1911).
4) One letter from the U.S. Senate claiming that no bills were introduced to erect a monument to Levy (1921).
5) Four newspaper articles to the editor of “Hebrew Standard” attempting to degrade Levy as a Jew, citing a lack of evidence for his position on flogging and receiving the Naval rank of Commodore (1911).
6) One article referring to a movement by a group of Jews to erect a monument in memory of Levy in Washington (undated).

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115Monticello and Its Preservation Since Jefferson's Death 1826-1902. Washington DC: Green Brothers1902

A booklet entitled “Monticello and its Preservation since Jefferson’s Death, 1826-1902” which mentions Commodore Levy on page three and states on page four: “Almost a generation before Mt. Vernon was bought for preservation by a society, Monticello was quietly bought for preservation by a commissioned officer of the United States Navy at a time when race and religion prejudices were making their last sullen resistance to Jefferson’s justice.” The back four pages contain information about the sale of Monticello, flogging in the Navy and a note on Commodore Levy’s gift of a statue of Jefferson, printed in Washington.

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116Isaac Markens mss.: "The Question of Uriah P. Levy's Rank and Services in the Navy"undated

A Long letter (12 pages), undated, handwritten, pieced together, scribbled in haste, not addressed to anyone, by Isaac Markens (in folder 14 there are inquiries by Markens dated 1910) seeking to disprove that Levy was indeed a commodore in the U.S. Navy and to downplay Levy’s role in eliminating flogging. Markens claims that the inscription on Levy’s cemetery monument saying he fathered the law that abolished flogging is erroneous, and that John Hale was the true author.

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117"A Doubtful Claim" [re: flogging]1911

An article from “The Granite Monthly” publication entitled “A Doubtful Claim” saying that it was John Hale, the Senator from New Hampshire, who abolished flogging and not Levy. There are two pictures of a gold medal presented to Hale from the crew of the man-of-war “Germantown” for his work in abolishing flogging.

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118W.E. Chandler to Jefferson M. Levy, 2 letters1915

Two letters from a William Chandler, husband of John Hale’s daughter, to Jefferson Levy, U.P. Levy’s nephew, requesting further evidence proving Levy’s central role in the abolishment of flogging.

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119Letters to Abram Kanof re: U.P. Levy1943-1948

Four letters:
1) Letter to the Mariners’ Museum requesting information about the Dartmoor Prison in England at the time when the crew of gunboat “Revenge” was incarcerated there on charges of piracy in 1822 (1943).
2) Letter from attorneys to a Lt. Commander Kanof telling him about an interesting Levy reference in ‘A Century at the Bar of the Supreme Court of the U.S.' (1944)
3) Letter from the Navy Department regarding the number of Levy’s courts martial before 1900 (no recorded date) and the Act of 1855, does not include information about officers who were reinstated (1944).
4) Letter from the National Archives to Dr. Kanof stating that records relating to Levy are scattered throughout Navy Department records (1948).

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120Abram Kanof's notebook containing notes and correspondence relating to the activities and career of U.P. Levyundated, 1942-1943, 1948

Seven spiral notebooks belonging to Dr. Kanof, filled with handwritten notes (undated) and research correspondence (1942-1943, 1948) taken from various sources about the life and times of U.P. Levy, all favorable and confirming Levy’s achievements. Page ten, which refers to “Levy and Flogging,” mentions changes in the rules for recruiting and training sailors and quotes a Secretary of the Navy Dobbie as saying, “this humane act is the result largely of Commodore Levy’s efforts.” Pages 61-65 include a thorough breakdown of Levy’s will with names of the inheritors. This section also mentions that he received “The Freedom of the City of New York.” Also included is a list of donations to various societies, gravesite directions, the inscription on Levy’s monument and its cost, etc. On page 73 appears a list of traits attributed to Levy.

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121Newspaper articles re: naming of Commodore Levy chapel at U.S. Naval air station, Norfolk, Virginia1959

Two newspaper articles from the U.S. Naval Air Station reporting that the Jewish Chapel shall be named for Uriah P. Levy, and pictures of the wall plaque for the Jewish chapel written in English and Hebrew.

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122Miscellaneous Secondary Publications1902-1903, 1925, 1961, 1985

A biographical sketch of Levy from the 1902-1903 American Jewish Year Book; newspaper articles on Levy from the American Hebrew (1925) and Sentinel (1961); and a program and a Levy history pamphlet (June 7, 1985) presented to the guests at the dedication ceremony to the Levy family held by the Thomas Jefferson Monticello Foundation, Inc.

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123Images of U.P. Levyundated

Three portraits of Levy; two identical portraits, one signed by Levy, “Captain, USN,” showing him as a man in his mid-fifties, sitting and smiling. Another full frontal portrait features Levy in full naval uniform holding a sword in his left hand and a scroll in his right which reads: “Author of the Abolition of Flogging in the Navy of the U.S.” On the wall behind Levy is another portrait of two vessels, underneath which “Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy, 1792-1862” is inscribed. Presented to the Naval Academy by Mrs. Carl von Mayhoff.

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21Records of Naval Court of Inquiry in case of Uriah P. Levy, late a Captain in the U.S. Navy, Washington, DCNovember 1857

A bound book entitled “Records of the Naval Court of Inquiry No. 3 in case of Uriah P. Levy, late a Captain in the U.S. Navy, Washington DC, November, A.D. 1857.” On page 462 is a lecture delivered by Hon. Stanton on the U.S. Navy before the Mercantile Library Association, February 8, 1854. His messages stress that for the Navy to remain strong it must reorganize and restructure by ridding itself of its useless members.

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22Dedication of the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy2005

Materials relating to the dedication of the Commodore Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. These items include a consecration program held on Shabbat, area maps, remarks by Vice Admiral Rodney P. Rempt, a press release, fact sheets, a program issued by Friends of the Jewish Chapel, and programs of the dedication ceremony. Oversized items are located in OS1 Folder 1 of 1.

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23"Residents of Monticello 1853-1883," and "Researching the Families at Monticello During the Civil War" by Sam Towlerundated

A carefully documented manuscript describing the residents of Monticello from 1853-1883. Among the residents were slaves belonging to Uriah Levy. Also includes printed presentation slides "Researching the families at Monticello during the Civil War"

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